Brennan Stebbins

A decision to pay Missouri Southern adjunct faculty four times a semester instead of five has some wondering about their futures with the institution.

A bulletin released by the Academic Affairs Office last Friday announced the change, which will begin spring 2009. Part-time and overload contracts will be paid for the first time on Feb. 27, meaning employees will work for seven weeks before receiving their first paychecks. The announcement said the change was “reviewed and supported by the Deans.”

Kim Horner, an English department adjunct, said she was outraged upon hearing the news.

“It’s wrong,” Horner said. “This is not a conscionable employment practice, to expect people to work for seven weeks without getting paid.”

“I immediately went down and visited with Vice President [John] Messick because this is not the first time they’ve done this,” she added. “They did it two years ago and I protested and I got it changed. The bulletin came out Friday afternoon before a long weekend and the bulletin went to full-time faculty only.”

Messick, vice president for academic affairs, said the change would make it easier to manage the pay schedule.

“When we went to Banner we had a four-pay schedule and we did have an objection to that by one part-time instructor,” Messick said. “We then put into place a plan to pay at least some part-time and overload contracts with a five pay schedule. We’ve been doing that for about a year.”

Messick said it’s been hard to manage that plan because deadlines for five pay contracts occur before the beginning of a semester, sometimes before the status of a class is certain.

“That is a reason that, after talking with the deans last spring, and they in turn talking with the department heads, we decided to return to the four-pay contract period,” Messick said. “It’s just easier to manage. If we have a contract out then we can cancel that class. It prevents some difficulties.”

Banner is the new administrative software implemented over the past few years. Messick said the payroll management aspect of Banner requires more lead time to get financial information in place, and a four-pay period will allow more time to be sure a class will make.

That explanation isn’t easing concerns for Horner, who said she may be forced to consider finding employment elsewhere. She also teaches English part-time at Pittsburg State University.

“If this change goes into effect, PSU will be a better place to work,” Horner said. “They pay us twice a month over there, and they pay us more.

“I can’t speak for anyone else,” she added. “I will have to consider it. I cannot wait seven weeks before I get paid.”

Kyle Tucker, another adjunct in the English department, echoed the frustrated sentiment.

“I’ll put it this way,” Tucker said. “I can see how this would make people, A., want to pursue teaching jobs at other schools, and B., want to bring in a labor union that would work in support of part-time college staff.

“These are the kinds of issues that make people want to bring in a labor union,” he added.

Messick was surprised at the uproar the change has elicited.

“My understanding of the initial concern several years ago was that it happened without advance warning,” he said. “I visited with the deans last spring and I am surprised that over the past several months I hadn’t heard any concern expressed about returning to this four-pay contract system.”

He said he’s always willing to visit with part-time employees about their concerns.

“If we could work out some sort of compromise I would be happy to do so, but the major issue is we just don’t know in some cases whether or not a class taught by a part-time instructor or in some cases an overload contract is going to make that far in advance of the beginning of the semester.”

Asked about possibly alienating part-time employees, Messick said they are all valued and he would like to see them receive more compensation in the future. The University currently pays adjunct faculty $1,800 per semester per course.

“We value our part-time instructors,” he said. “I think if you look at the pay schedule for part-time employment, we’re not as high as some institutions; we’re above some others. I would hate to lose our part time instructors.

“We depend on them very heavily, and I’d like to see us increase our pay rate for part-time instruction, we just can’t do that now because of our budget situation. In my opinion that’s going to have a high priority down the road.”

In the meantime, Horner is trying to raise awareness by contacting adjuncts in other departments.

“Another thing Messick told me was that his understanding from the deans was nobody else cared if they didn’t get paid until the end of February,” Horner said. “I told him that I would find some people who cared.”